Multnomah County Chair Focuses On Coronavirus For State Of County Address

By Meerah Powell

At her State of the County address Friday, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury focused on the county’s future rather than its past — specifically in terms of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

“To do what we usually do — focus on telling the story of the county’s accomplishments over the last year, and there are many — would feel out of touch with the state of the world,” Kafoury said, “and more specifically with our own community.” 

Kafoury gave her address through the City Club of Portland’s live stream, stationed in an empty conference room in the county’s health department, where she said she’s moved her office to better respond to the COVID-19 crisis. 

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She mostly focused on the work the county has done to prepare for the pandemic and how residents have worked together as a community. 

Kafoury said she would describe Multnomah County in a single word at this moment in time: “Grateful.” 

Grateful for ongoing social distancing practices, grateful for people continuing to work essential jobs and “grateful that this community has offered the best of itself to each other during this trying time,” Kafoury said. 

Her hope throughout the ongoing public health crisis, she said, is that it “recalibrates our understanding of who and what matters.” 

Kafoury said, for example, that the impact of the virus has thrown a spotlight onto communities that were already in need including people experiencing homelessness, families who are dealing with food instability and domestic violence survivors and people in abusive relationships. 

She announced that the county is making a $100,000 emergency investment into domestic violence hotel vouchers for people in danger of abuse.

“In short order, the arrival of COVID-19 has done more than exacerbate the disparities and inequities that people experience. It’s thrown back the curtain so that no one can deny that these crises exist in every community,” she said. “But just as these challenges are not new, neither is Multnomah County’s work to address them.” 

Kafoury highlighted the county public health department’s response to the virus, including its communicable disease team consisting of nurses and epidemiologists. 

She also highlighted the county’s work around housing and homelessness amid the pandemic. 

“I’m making sure people stay in their housing during this pandemic,” Kafoury said, noting her temporary moratorium on residential evictions from March 17. “It is a public health imperative.” 

For people experiencing homelessness, Kafoury noted the county’s work to keep winter shelters open and create more temporary shelters including the opening of shelters in the Oregon Convention Center and various community centers. 

Kafoury ended her address with directives for Multnomah County residents who aren’t working on the front lines amid the pandemic. 

“We can tend to our neighbors directly, and indirectly,” she said. “We can fill out the census so that our community is counted correctly and comprehensively.” 

She also urged people to vote in the May primary election, specifically in support of a measure from Metro — the Portland metro area’s regionally elected government — looking to raise $250 million for homeless services. 

“Multnomah County is capable of weathering this crisis,” Kafoury said. “We are capable of emerging from this pandemic with an even clearer vision of who we want to be as a community.”